Celeste Lee, a champion for patients and families

February 9, 2017  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees,

No one should travel their health care journey alone. This is the core belief of the peer mentoring program at Michigan Medicine.

To recognize those peer mentors that go above and beyond, Patient and Family Centered Care (PFCC) has established the Celeste Castillo Lee Peer Mentoring Award.

Celeste C. Lee, a former PFCC program manager, was instrumental in coordinating and creating the formal peer mentoring program at Michigan Medicine. At 17, Celeste was diagnosed with Wegener’s granulomatosis, a rare disease that eventually led to kidney failure and a kidney transplant.  When she was diagnosed 35 years ago, Celeste did not have the support system for which she now advocates.

“The hardest part about any of these illnesses is the isolation and loneliness. No matter what disease you’re being diagnosed with, I would say that is the biggest obstacle,” Celeste said.

She believes that when patients, physicians and staff work together, it is of mutual benefit to all and helps to ease the isolation and loneliness patients can experience.

Celeste’s advice to her 17-year-old self: “Learn as much as you can, talk with your doctors, and do as much as you can to reach out to help other people.”

Her passion for helping others has driven Celeste’s entire career, especially during her time at Michigan Medicine. That passion was fueled in part by the doctor who initially diagnosed her disease and cared for her. He told her to treat her life as an adventure, to learn and to help others in the process.

Along with establishing the peer mentoring program, she also was instrumental in bringing Patient and Family Centered Care to University Hospital. Celeste firmly believes engaging and involving patients in their care leads to better outcomes.

Peer mentoring at Michigan Medicine

A peer mentor is a patient or volunteer who has experienced or has had a family member experience the same condition or disease as a current patient. Peer mentors support patients in the emotional and daily management of a new diagnosis or procedure and serve as a link to the clinical care team.

PFCC’s peer mentoring program was formally established three years ago. Before that, departments had their own peer mentors, but there was no centralized formal training or monitoring. Now, peer mentors attend day-long training as volunteers and additional training on how to provide support to patients.

For patients, peer mentors can be invaluable during the course of their medical care. They help patients engage better with their providers, learn the language and learn to ask the right questions.

This past December was the first year the Celeste Castillo Lee Peer Mentoring Award was given and among the winners was Mark Reese, a PFCC advisor and member of the Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) Unit Based Committee. He is a committed BMT peer mentor, visiting regularly with patients and families to provide support, comfort and advice to patients. Mark received a successful bone marrow transplant eight years ago.

When asked why he is an advisor and peer mentor, Mark said, “I am thankful every day for having a successful bone marrow transplant … and the best way to act on that thankfulness is to help others through a similar situation.”

Mark and his wife Cindy know what it is like to be in the different stages of treatment that current patients and their caregivers are experiencing, and how to show dignity and grace in sharing from their heart.

Colleen Schomaker was the other recipient of the award. Colleen’s experience at Michigan Medicine is that of a parent of a child with congenital heart defects. She spent the first 10 years of her son Tommy’s life in hospitals. She uses her experience to mentor other parents who are facing the vulnerable and anxiety-filled road ahead.

As a parent mentor, Colleen said, “I want to give hope to families to get them through that next hour or that next week.” For Colleen, she said being a mentor has been a blessing and gives her perspective in life.

To honor Celeste’s contributions and career, the Celeste Castillo Lee Peer Mentoring Award will be awarded annually to two peer mentors. PFCC has also established a fund in her name to further develop the peer mentoring program and other PFCC initiatives.

To donate to the fund, please click here.